Ending homelessness in Bristol

Councillor Tom Renhard, smiling, with trees on College Green in the background.
This blog is from Councillor
Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member
for Housing Delivery and Homes.

People rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, but we know that this is only a small part of the problem. Ultimately one person living on our streets is one too many and we will keep doing everything we can to work with people to help them turn their lives around and find a home to call their own. We remain committed to ending rough sleeping and building a city where nobody is left behind.

Figures published today suggest that the number of people sleeping rough in Bristol has fallen by around 15% in the last year. Nationally, having soared over the last decade, the figure is 3,069.

During the official annual count that took place last November, 58 people were found to be sleeping on the streets, down from 68 in 2021. We also know that during our own counts that take place throughout the year, the figure fluctuates. During the pandemic, additional support from government helped see the figure fall to around 20 – 80% down on earlier years.

While I am pleased to see that our continued efforts to support people who are rough sleeping has reduced the numbers sleeping on the streets, we are aware that there is still a constant flow of people ending up homeless, with many blockages to getting individuals back off the streets.

We receive a number of funding strands from government every year, including the Homelessness Prevention Grant, the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), and the Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme (RSAP), but the short-term nature of these pots makes it difficult for us to plan for the long term.

Cost of living crisis

Despite the drop in the number of people recorded as sleeping on the streets, we know that the national housing crisis is inextricably linked with the current national cost of living crisis. Many people face difficult choices of whether to heat or eat. Households across Bristol are struggling to afford to keep a roof over their heads, and we now face a perfect storm of spiralling rents and rising bills that threatens to push many towards the brink of homelessness.

Without significant government investment and positive movements in national policy, the levels of people reporting as homeless and ending up rough sleeping risks rising due to the pressure of rising bills and costs, coupled with the lack of affordable move on accommodation.

We remain committed to making sure as many people as possible do not return to, or end up on, the streets, but really need more long-term financial support from government, especially if we want to reduce the number of people housed in emergency accommodation.

In Bristol we have more than 19,000 households on our waiting list for social housing, along with over 1,200 households in temporary accommodation. House prices are beyond the means of most Bristolians, rent rises continue to outstrip wage growth, and the blight of section 21 evictions persist and threaten to destabilise the lives of households across the city. It is crucial that we continue to build a range of affordable homes to rent and to buy across the city, meeting the varied housing needs of Bristol citizens who cannot afford to pay market prices.

The main reason for this remains the national housing crisis, and the lack of affordable move on accommodation available for people to progress on from the emergency accommodation we provide. We have accelerated our own council house build programme, as well as supporting partners to build more affordable homes. Last year Bristol built 2,563 new homes with 474 of these being affordable – but these will obviously take time to construct, and we need to be able to support people much sooner.


Preventing homelessness also remains key and, working with partners, the council offers a range of prevention services including a welfare rights and money advice service, targeted support for people leaving hospital and prison, and a Youth Homelessness hub (Bristol Youth MAPS) to help young people to stay with their families where possible.

We also continue to develop our Housing First offering for people who have struggled with getting off the streets. This approach gives people access to housing, without them having prove they are ready for it. Once housed, they are then provided with intensive wrap around support to enable them to manage and sustain their tenancy. The Housing First model has shown some great results and helped to support some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

We must remember that homelessness is complex, and not everyone wants the support being offered at the time. People’s reasons for sleeping rough are often multi-layered and deeply personal which is why our approach with partners is to focus on understanding the individual’s needs whilst aiming to offer longer term stability. We will continue to work with people who are rough sleeping, reviewing their options and developing individual plans for everyone to leave the streets.

There remains a lot of support and services available for people who are rough sleeping, or at risk of homelessness, and I would encourage people to take that first step to reach out and get help.

Taking early action can avoid reaching crisis point. For more cost of living support and advice visit our cost of living webpage.

You can also call the We Are Bristol phone line on 0800 694 0184, Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm.

If you are concerned about someone who is sleeping rough, you can make a referral via Streetlink.

A young person is pictured, wearing a blue and black jumper, holding a carboard cut out of a house, with street art in the background.